In our fifties, many of us count down the years until we can retire. We join AARP. We start thinking about the money we should have put aside over the years and look at how we can put aside a little more. We see our children leave home. We start thinking about things we’ve put off that we’d like to do before we get too old. Often we look at what we’re going to leave our children as a legacy. John House was 56 years old and considering all of this and more when he started JHS Specialties, LLC, a green product industrial supply sales company, in July 2011.
House medically retired from the Army as a 71L, Clerk-Typist; an 11B, Infantryman; and 05C, SCUBA Diver. He had lost the sight in his right eye and developed bad knees but had other work experience as a police officer, a salesperson and volunteering as a SCUBA trainer for Rescue and Recovery workers. Because his wife has a lifelong debilitating disease, together their medical expenses total about $7000 a month…but House was one who hoped to leave a legacy to his children.
He sat down with his kids to see if they wanted to run a company he would start. They were interested, so he set forth to find out how to start and manage one. House met with Greg Tucker from the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Center (SBTDC) in Hillsboro, Missouri, and found not only an adviser, but his cheering section, and “an occasional kick in the pants along the way” as he started a specialty company to sell commercial and industrial supplies from his home in Valles Mines, Missouri.
His immediate challenge was getting money to buy product, which he found from his lender, who extended a $10,000 line of credit. His customers were good about paying their bills since they knew he was a small business owner and he averaged a 15-day turnaround on his invoices. He bought new product with the money that came in and went out and sold, and sold, and sold.
“It was surprising to me since I’ve worked in sales and taught sales, that it was tough to get used to doing it on my own. It was hard to get going some days. I was 56 years old, walking in cold and opening new accounts. People asked, ‘Are you going to be around to come back?’ because of my age. That was hard to hear,” he said.
He also found 12 hour days, six days a week to be challenging. “You just don’t have the same energy you had in your 20s and you just don’t recover as well. Many a time I called Greg because I was losing faith in myself. He talked me down.”
John feels his strengths are his Army experience, his time as a police officer on the streets in a car and previous construction sales. “What better way to learn customer service?” he asks.
His wife gives him great business advice as a former sales analyst for Rubbermaid and he has learned to run his ideas by a group of three small business owner friends to get wise counsel.
Most of the commercial and industrial supplies House sells are American-made. “One of the reasons I’m doing this is to sell American-made products. I got tired of walking into stores and seeing foreign products. I’m proud of my country and want to help bring buying USA back,” he says. He also works with suppliers to create green products such as solvents, penetrants, lubricants, and cleaning products that actually work as well as non-green versions.
His sales strategy is to go in and make a friend. He tries to solve existing customer problems and feels that he should always “under-promise and over-deliver.”
He feels his customers are his partners. “Anyone who owns their own business to avoid having a boss has the wrong idea. When you own your own business, all of your clients and potential clients are your bosses.”
His strategy has clearly been successful so far. In just over a year, his business has outgrown the basement and House just moved into a leased space. He now employs two employees- one full-time and one temporary. He wants to hire more salespeople, but is running into a time crunch since it takes time to train them.
Recently, House has developed some anxiety leading to lost sleep. Now he has overhead. He also wants to start a company website for his sales, but he’s aware that will be a huge endeavor and believes he has to find the right person to set it up and manage it.
“Growing a company is hard,” he has realized.
House offers this advice to prospective business owners, “Go to the SBTDC, to SBA. The government is there to help you. Use them. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Make sure you’re willing to work 12-14 hours per day and six or seven days a week. If you want to leave a legacy to your kids, make sure it’s what they want. Sit down and talk to them.”
While he sometimes questions why he’s doing this at his age, he promises himself he will retire when he gets his business where he wants it.
“Whatever age you start a business, you should analyze what you want to do and ask yourself if this is what you want to spend your time doing.” he says.
John still finds time to volunteer with at-risk kids to teach them Tae Kwon Do, but says the business has taken a heavy toll on his social life and free time. He believes the sacrifice will be worth it.
So, even when we’re more gray on top or have forgotten our original color, our bodies have changed shape and size and won’t do what they once did, and we don’t have the energy we had in our 20s; there is hope for anyone over 50 who wants to start a business. And, there are programs to help those willing to take on the next adventure.
JHS Specialties, LLC, can be reached at 636-937-7474 or by emailing John House at firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for his website in the future.
The Hillsboro SBTDC can be reached at Jefferson County Extension Center, 301 3rd Street, P.O. Box 497, Hillsboro, MO, 63050, or by calling 636-797-5480, or by emailing email@example.com. Other Missouri SBTDC offices can found at http://www.missouribusiness.net/sbtdc/centers.asp. SBA’s St. Louis District Office can be reached by calling 314-539-6600 or at http://www.sba.gov/mo/stlouis.